Religion Saves: Predestination, Grace, and Faith & Works

Religion-Saves-predestination

893 questions posted. 343,203 votes cast. Nine controversial subjects. The resulting sermons were then reformatted and expanded in the book, Religion Saves & Nine Other Misconceptions, released in June, 2009, through Crossway and RE:Lit.

This post will be dealing with three subjects from the book: Predestination, grace, and faith & works.

Predestination

Always a lightning rod for debate is the subject of predestination. Particularly over the past 400 years, the mode and meaning of predestination has been divisive among some Christians. In this chapter, Mark Driscoll shares an overview of the history of the two most prominent positions on predestination, going back to the second century. One is what Driscoll refers to as the two-handed position (synergism); that God reaches out his hand and we choose to reach out in response. As stated in the book, “God does not predestine us, but rather God foreknows who will choose him of their own free will, so in essence God chooses those who choose him” (p. 70). This is the heart of what’s referred to as the Arminian position on salvation (although there’s still more too it). The other position is what he refers to as the one-handed position (monergism): “That everyone is a sinner by nature and choice and therefore fully deserves nothing more than the conscious eternal torment in hell; nevertheless, in pure grace, some wholly undeserving sinners are predestined for heaven and saved by Jesus Christ” (p. 71). This is the heart of what’s commonly called the Calvinist (Reformed) position on salvation.

Digging into the content a little more, I really appreciated the explanation of the concept of prevenient grace, which, as described in the book is grace poured out by God on all mankind kind giving everyone the ability to make a free will choice to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. In essence, it negates the total depravity of man and moves us from being spiritually dead, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:1, to spiritually neutral—a concept, to borrow the words of Millard Erickson as quoted in the book, “appealing though it is in many ways, simply is not taught explicitly in the Bible.”

The remaining bulk of the chapter is at its heart, an apologetic for the Calvinistic position on salvation as Driscoll understands it. His explanation covers more than 90 passages of Scripture, including a particularly helpful explanation of Romans 9. Additionally, Driscoll also includes several questions that appeared in the live text messaging segment of the sermon. Of these, I really appreciate how the most common criticism against Calvinists is debunked—that rather than quenching evangelistic zeal, it fuels it. “We are relieved of the burden to manipulate and guilt people into becoming Christians and can work more honestly, lovingly, patiently, truthfully, compassionately, and sincerely” (p. 96). Because God is responsible for salvation, I am free to be honest about my faith, my love for Jesus and my struggles in a way that I otherwise might not.

What I most appreciated when reading the chapter was it’s humble tone. It wasn’t jokey or mocking of the Arminian position, and I really appreciate what Driscoll states about not wanting this chapter to be seen as “yet another pile of rocks for Christians to throw at each other” (p. 101). Honestly, it’s rare to see an author on any subject seek to be as graceful in his attitude as Driscoll is trying to be with the subject of predestination.

Grace

In many ways, this chapter really expands on themes discussed in the chapter on predestination, specifically how a just and holy God would save anyone, given that we are all sinners who fully deserve his wrath.

Even thinking about it right now… it’s truly a mind-boggling concept, isn’t it? But, as Driscoll says quite correctly in this chapter, “Simply, nothing in all of Christianity makes any sense apart from a proper understanding of the grace of God” (p. 114).

Driscoll provides a very personal account of his growing understanding of grace, and how he’s seen it in his own life. He then moves into a detailed  description of common grace, which is poured out on all humanity (thus we can enjoy a steak and a beautiful sunset and a good marriage, even if we’re not Christians) and saving grace by which we find salvation in Christ. Sadly, we all have a tendency to cheapen grace, which comes out in two forms: Legalism and Libertinism.

Legalism causes us to focus on the Bible as a series of rules—things we have to do, rather than things we get to do. It’s not simply that we have to honor God in all circumstances, it’s that we get to! Legalism steals joy that is brought to us through grace.

Libertinism, likewise steals our joy in a different way. Treating sin as something that we can revel in, rather than something to put to death in our lives. It robs us of the joy of sanctification. Driscoll provides a powerful example of this in the case of an adulterer he knew, a man who repeatedly cheated on his Christian wife. In his mind, “God’s grace meant that he could do whatever he wanted and that Jesus was obligated to forgive him and give him grace” (p. 116). This example is not only tragic, but pathetic.

Driscoll concludes the chapter by defining and illustrating thirteen experiences of grace from electing grace to glorifying grace. These thirteen experiences parallel the order of salvation (as defined on page 94) and in the provided descriptions, readers can easily see how grace interplays at every point. Perhaps most impactful when reading it was Driscoll’s final comments on glorifying grace being for both the sinner and the saint, and that we may look forward to the day when Jesus sits on the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16).

On that day when glorifying grace ahs completed its powerful transformation of all creation, including our bodies, the blind will see the glory of God, the lame will run to the throne of God, the deaf will hear the voice of God, the weeping will have every tear wiped from their eyes by the hand of God, and all things will be made new by the pure, free, sovereign, unending, inexhaustible, irresistible, efficacious, powerful, glorious, unparalleled, awe-inspiring, praise-evoking, life-changing, earth-shaking, mind-bending, heart-melting grace of God! (p 125)

Amen!

Faith & Works

This chapter is one that I felt moved further away from the original sermon than most, from what I can recall. Here, Driscoll in large part provides readers with a groundwork in the doctrine of regeneration and it’s effect on the Christian life (in that without it, there is no Christian life).

In many ways, this chapter completes a thought that begins in the Predestination chapter, and moves through Grace, before concluding here. And that is, simply, that a person cannot meet Jesus and not change. And that’s really the point of our works, Driscoll argues. That our works are evidence of the change that has happened in our lives as we become connected to the living God of the Bible. Driscoll illustrates this describing first justification—that is, Jesus’ justifying work in us and that, ultimately, justification is all about Jesus. Because without His finished work on the cross, we could have no right standing with God and no regeneration. From there, Driscoll details the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work in us and ten aspects of regeneration. A regenerated person has a new Lord, is a new creation, has a new identity, a new mind, new emotions, new desires, new community, new power, new freedom, and, ultimately, new life free from the bondage of sin to worship Jesus fully.

Truly, this is a message I cannot hear enough, because my tendency is to see my works as those things that earn my right standing with God, rather than what they truly are—worshipful acts in celebration of the right standing freely given to me by God. And because of this reason, this chapter was a highlight. Well done.


Next: Humor, The Emerging Church, and the Regulative Principle.